Why isn’t Enterprise Search “Mission Critical?”

Why isn’t “search” the logical end-point in any content and information management activity. If we don’t care about being able to find valued and valuable information, why bother with any of the myriad technologies employed to capture, organize, categorize, store, and analyze content. What on earth is the point of having our knowledge workers document the results of their business, science, engineering and marketing endeavors, if we never aspire to having it retrieved, leveraged or re-purposed by others?

However, in Information Week, an article in the September 5, 2011 issue entitled “HP Transformation: Autonomy is a Modest Start” gave me a jolt with this comment: Autonomy has very sophisticated search capabilities including federation–the ability to search across many repositories and sources–and video and image search. But with all that said, enterprise search isn’t a hot, mission-critical business priority. [NOTE: in the print version the “call-out” box had slightly different phrasing but it jumped off the page, anyway.] This is pretty provocative and disappointing to read in the pages of this particular publication.

Over the past few months, I have been engrossed in working on several client projects related to taxonomy development, vocabulary management and integration with content and search systems. There is no doubt that every one of these institutions is focused with laser intensity on getting the search interface to deliver the highest value for the effort and dollars expended. In each case, the project involved a content management component for capturing metadata with solid uniformity, strong vocabulary control, and rich synonym tables for ensuring findability when a search query has different language than the content or metadata. Every step in each of these projects has come back to the acid test, “will the searcher be able to find what s/he is looking for.”

In past posts I have commented on the strength of enterprise search technologies, and the breadth of offerings that cover a wide array of content findability needs and markets. From embedded search (within content management systems, archive and records management systems, museum systems, etc.), to standalone search engines designed to work well in discrete vertical markets or functional areas of enterprises (e.g., engineering, marketing, healthcare, energy exploration) buyers have a wealth of options from which to choose. Companies that have formerly focused on web site management, business intelligence, data mining, and numerous other content related tools are redefining themselves with additional terminology like e-discovery, 360-degree views (of information), content accessibility, and unified information.

Without the search component, all of the other technologies, which have been so hot in the past, are worthless. The article goes on to say that the hottest areas (of software growth) are business analytics and big-data analysis. Neither of these contributes business value without search underpinnings.

So, let’s get off this kick of under-rating and marginalizing search as “not mission critical” and think very seriously about the consequences of trying to run any enterprise without being able to find the products of our intellectual work output.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve been working on some projects this year which perhaps shed some light on the low priority that search is given. I can see at least 10 issues.
    1. Most companies have no idea of the scale of their information respositories, and the speed of their growth.
    2. Search vendors tend to sell on the features of their solutions, and not on the business benefits.
    3. In companies where there is poor, or non-existent, search, employees have no reference point to know what the benefits of good search are. In addition they have developed coping mechanisms that provide a ‘solution’ to the problems
    4. IT departments are self-sufficient in terms of finding information, so have no incentive themselves to push forward with a solution
    5. No individual line-of-business ‘owns’ search so building a collective business case requires a search champion, and they are very rare.
    6. Very few companies have an information management strategy that positions search as a core enabler in achieving business objectives
    7. In Europe there has never been a conference devoted to enterprise search to which managers interested in the subject could go along to check on good practice. That will change with the Enterprise Search Europe conference in London on 24/25 October this year.
    8. Even when there is a search application companies always fail to understand the need for a good search support team to ensure that search continues to meet user and business requirements.
    9. The quality of IT journalism on search is poor
    10. In Europe there are no undergraduate courses in information retrieval/enterprise search, and not that many in the USA, so there is an acute shortage of people with the skills to make search work
    Martin White
    Intranet Focus Ltd, UK

  2. Martin,
    As always, right on point. We both work to overcome the causes for failures within enterprises. It is more problematic to change the dialogue in the IT oriented press (point 9.) but we’ll just have to keep trying to get the message out.
    Carry on…. Lynda

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